Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Nothing Generation

Dorota Masłowska is the voice of Poland's Nothing Generation, in translator Benjamin Paloff's words:
...all the twentysomethings who scarcely remember the lean years before 1989, when Central Europe shed Communism, which means that they have little basis for comparison with the rapid economic change, the influx of foreign goods and pop-kitschy images, the violent social stratification, and the all-too-obvious political corruption that shape their world at the beginning of a new millennium. Materialism, greed, vanity, and vulgarity seem to pervade their society, and any suggestion that life is better than it used to be fails to resonate with their own life experience. The argument that Poland is better off despite its broad socioeconomic upheavals, after all, sounds too much like a sales pitch, and this generation is none too fond of the product.

Masłowska's novel Snow White and Russian Red is excerpted at Worlds without Borders. It doesn't stop for air. "Masłowska’s prose jumps brilliantly between linguistic registers, combining slang, street lingo, obscenity, and artificially formal speech in a single frenetic utterance."

It depicts something very ugly, to me. The form matches its content in this respect: it has all the angry energy and disillusionment of youth, with only bleak visions and illogical schemes for the future. Masłowska is a writing sensation at the tender age of 19. Post-Communist Poland is reduced to a state of infancy. This excerpt reads like a temper tantrum of frustration.

Paloff frames Masłowska's place in literature within Poland's vast tradition of struggling for selfhood:
Despite the sunny simplifications of Western observers, for many Poles 1989 did not represent a definitive break with their country’s unlucky legacy of partition, invasion, occupation, and oppression. Rather, with the emergence of social ills like drug addiction, high unemployment, and homelessness, problems that for all their high talk most Western governments have barely even begun to address productively, some Poles have come to see the difficulty of the post-Communist era as just the latest in the long series of blunt traumas History has dealt them. What sets this period of Polish history apart is that, for the first time, much of the world is grappling with the same identity crisis. The national discourses that have come to the fore with the rise of globalization — particularly the question of how to sustain cultural identities against foreign hegemony, whether military or corporate — have been a major concern for Polish thinkers since well before Poland’s Third Partition in 1795, when the country disappeared from the map of Europe. In this respect, instead of Poland going global, perhaps the world has increasingly grown to resemble Poland.

History has somehow wronged us all, though maybe Poland a little bit longer. We are each of us, individuals and nations, misunderstood and banging up against walls trying to be heard.

"One of the important ideas that Masłowska’s novel successfully conveys is that this struggle for a cultural identity is always, first and foremost, a struggle with oneself."

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